Halloween in Germany

I had the opportunity to spend two weeks teaching at the University of Konstanz in the state of Baden-Württemberg on the border with Switzerland. I decided to jump at the chance, so am, I think, the first academic to come over from the Balsillie School and do this stint. The idea was to spend a fortnight here in Germany, and teach 14 sessions on a Global Health and HIV and AIDS. The University covered my costs.

There was an additional reason though. Due to the tax rules in the UK I am severely penalized if I spend more than 90 days in Britain. This trip to Europe was therefore a really good opportunity to see a new University, teach different students, and have time with the family. They had to come to Germany for this to happen. Douglas and I travelled together on Saturday 21st October. He left on Wednesday. Ailsa came from Thursday to Sunday and the plan is that Rowan will join me on the last Wednesday. We will then leave together on Saturday and travel to Amsterdam for a night. From there she will fly to Norwich while I go to Cape Town.

We have really enjoyed this. The University was not particularly well organised, but then I am coming to realise that no university is! I knew what times and where I was teaching, but not how many students I would have in the class. There were 11 in the first session and the number went up by one rather than down. The classes are mostly in the evening and are timetabled for three and a quarter hours, a very long time, especially at the end of the day. I have been breaking them into two one and a half hour sessions. The students are mainly third years with political and social science background. Four of them are on ‘Erasmus’ scholarships which means there is an international flavour in the class, although few have travelled outside Europe.

More problematic have been the public holidays. Halloween, 1st November, is a holiday in Germany. This was planned for in my teaching and timetable. The 31st October is called ‘Reformationstag’ or ‘Luther’s Theses Day’ and is observed as a regional holiday in some states: Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia for anyone who is interested.

In 2017, however, it is a public holiday in all Germany in honour of 500 years of the reformation. Specifically it is intended to mark the day when Martin Luther (1483-1546) went up to the church in Wittenburg and nailed his 95 ‘theses’ (or propositions) to the door. Luther’s intention was to highlight, and condemn, the practice of indulgences in the Catholic Church. These were pardons from sin that could be bought. The rich could buy forgiveness for most malfeasance (from God, as opposed to the buying or bribing of judges for criminal actions or ‘sins’). Indeed this idea of buying intercession could continue after a person was dead, if the relatives cared enough, and I believe it still happens in the Catholic Church.

The reformation led to a number of Christians breaking off from the Roman Catholic Church and establishing new, independent churches. In England the split between the Catholic Church and Henry VIII was about succession and sex of course, not grander ideals. The reformation lead, over time, to Weber’s book The Protestant Ethic. This was very influential on my thinking when we read it as part of the BA degree decades ago. Specifically it lead me to say to the host here, when he suggested that we cancel class on Monday, as students might take a long weekend, that this went against my Protestant view of the world and class would go ahead. I feel I am being paid to teach. It was extremely interesting that, although the campus was pretty deserted I had eleven students show up!

Zeppelin, Germany, 2017

Zeppelin, Germany, 2017

Since the classes were in the evenings, and I had done all the preparation for the first week, I had most of the day free to spend with which ever member of the family was in town. Douglas and I spent Sunday wandering round the city, mainly in the old part and discovered that all shops – apart from the one at the station – were closed. We were able to get milk there though. We also climbed the nearly 200 stairs to the top of the Münster, the incredibly old cathedral. That was quite an intensive day of sightseeing and great fun to be in such an old city. Konstanz was not bombed during the second world war because of its proximity to Switzerland and the allied fears that they might hit Swiss property. This means it is intact, and not rebuilt, as is the case in so many other places in Germany, France and Belgium.

We took the catamaran to the town of Friedrichshafen about an hour away and had a wander around and lunch there. The trip was fun, but the town not hugely fascinating. There was a war memorial for both the first and second world wars. This included the names of the civilians who had died in the conflict. This is interesting and unusual. I wonder if there would ever be one for those who were deported, and they would primarily be Jewish.

The other activity with Douglas was to visit the thermal spa about 30 minutes’ walk from the apartment. We spent a happy three hours there enjoying the warm water. Mixed public nudity is quite accepted in the change rooms and the saunas. Indeed in the hottest 1,000 sauna there was only one person, so we kept our costumes on. I made the mistake of going into a packed cooler room. I was met with a wall of hostile stares from naked people arrayed in poses on the seats and shelves. The glares were so intense that I felt I had the choice of ostentatiously taking my costume off or leaving. I left. And it was not as if they were particularly attractive either. The tendency was clients to be ‘comfortably built’, while feeling the effects of gravity and age. Mind you this was hardly surprising for a Monday morning, during a school term.

Castle Meersburg, 2017

Castle Meersburg, 2017

Ailsa left on Sunday and I had a few days before Rowan was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening. I taught on Monday evening and Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent preparing the last of the lectures and thinking about a couple of articles I am keen to write. Then, South Africa.

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